As a journeyman footballer approaching the end of his career, Gareth Seddon wasn’t really expecting what came next. On the back of a tough season in the Conference Premier with Chester, who were only saved from relegation by the collapse of Salisbury City and Hereford United, he was weighing up what to do when a surprise phone call changed everything.
“It came up as an unknown number,” says Seddon. “I answered it and it was this voice saying ‘Hi Gareth, it’s Gary Neville here.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, OK.’ He was like, ‘No, no. It’s Gary.’ He started to talk and I suddenly realised it actually was him. At first I thought it was one of the lads taking the mick.
“He basically said that him and the other guys from the Class of ’92 had taken over a club and were looking to get out of the league they were in as fast as possible, and they needed a goalscorer to help them do that.”
Salford City were the club that Gary Neville, his brother Phil, and their former Manchester United team-mates Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs took over in 2014. Languishing in the Northern Premier League Division One North, the eighth tier of English football, the new owners were keen to accelerate Salford’s progress.
They’d identified Seddon as the striker who could fire them to automatic promotion. He played a big role in the start of Salford’s journey, which has so far taken them to the National League, which they are favourites to win this term. Despite missing several months through injury in his second season, the striker scored 26 goals in 60 appearances for the club, and continues to take an active interest in their progress.
“I’ve actually done quite a bit of work for Salford in terms of recommending, referring and signing players. I’ve helped them with scouting,” says Seddon, who became an agent after retiring in 2017. “If they’ve got a position that they need to fill – say they need a centre-half who’s under 24 and has played in the Football League – then I’ll go and watch games and recommend players to them. It’s kind of been an ongoing journey.
“I’ve currently got four players in the first-team squad who are registered to my agency, so hopefully they’ll do well, and even though I’m not playing for them anymore I’m still helping them in the background to get where they want to go. I think they’ve got plans to get to the Premier League one day and if I can still be there, helping them and providing players, then it will have been a massive journey for me, which is brilliant.”
It all started just over four years ago. Joining Salford involved dropping down three divisions, but there was undeniable appeal in the wage on offer and the chance to be part of such an ambitious project. As a Manchester United fan, the opportunity to work with heroes from his youth also excited Seddon, who signed up after a meeting with the club’s then-manager, Phil Power.
His first game was a ‘surreal’ encounter with the Class of ‘92 and some other famous faces, including Mikael Silvestre, Robbie Savage, former England cricket captain Michael Vaughan and comedian Jack Whitehall. It was already clear that this was going to be an experience quite unlike what could be found at any other non-league club.
“It was kind of like a bit of a swansong for my career. I was looking to maybe play one more season and then retire,” says Seddon, who was 34 at the time. “Obviously it was great to be involved with those guys. They were talking about Phil Neville and Paul Scholes being down at training. Giggsy would be in the dressing room giving you advice. I just thought ‘Wow, what a way to finish my career.’”
As one of Salford’s statement signings, along with former Football League veterans Danny Webber and Jason Jarrett, much was expected of Seddon. All three new boys made their competitive debuts in a 4-1 win over Scarborough Athletic on the opening day of the season. Seddon scored a hat-trick and went on to establish himself as the team’s talisman during their title charge, which was filmed as part of a BBC documentary – The Class of ‘92: Out of Their League.
The voluble Seddon embraced the opportunity to talk to the cameras and arguably became the film’s star turn. The profile of the club was duly boosted, along with his own.
“Obviously the documentary was a big focus as well,” he says. I was walking around with a microphone constantly attached to me and cameras in my face. All the focus was on us and it was really exciting.
“Every time you went into training or a game, it gave you that buzz. It was something that I really enjoyed and took to it. Some of the lads found it really nerve-wracking with the cameras there and people always asking you for an interview and to say what you thought. For me, because I was a bit older and more mature, I kind of thrived on it.”
The attention brought by positive results and the presence of the Class of ’92 saw crowds increase considerably. Renovation work started on the club’s ground, Moor Lane, and there was a clear drive for greater professionalism. But at the same time, resentment started to fester among rivals who couldn’t compete with Salford’s resources. They were the division’s big scalp; the team everyone wanted to beat.
That situation hasn’t changed, even as Salford have risen further. If anything, it’s become more pronounced. Their recent signings of Danny Lloyd from League One Peterborough United, and in particular Aberdeen’s Adam Rooney, have attracted plenty of comment and criticism. Accusations about buying promotion persist. They’re hardly the first club to take this route but the size of the venture, involving billionaire investor Peter Lim, stands out.
Salford’s approach undoubtedly isn’t to everyone’s taste, but Seddon disputes some of the figures quoted in the press – Rooney is rumoured to be on £4,000-a-week – and highlights the wider emphasis on infrastructure and community work that he feels has gone unnoticed. “There obviously is a lot of investment going into the club, but people are just seeing the money spent on players.
“What they don’t necessarily see from the outside is that Gary is also investing a lot into the Salford community. He’s got a college providing training and education to the young people of Salford. He’s got people going into the schools. He’s put money into housing and making the city a better place. Families are encouraged to come to the football and get involved with the coaching.”
“I think it’s well known that a few years ago Salford was quite a rundown area and obviously Gary and the others aren’t just putting money into the football team. They’re putting money into the whole community, and I think that’s sometimes overlooked by the media. They’re trying to do it the right way.”
Seddon might question the established media narratives, but three promotions in four seasons speaks for itself. Momentum is certainly building at the club and it started with winning the title in his first year. A dip in form during the winter led to a decisive change, with Anthony Johnson and Bernard Morley coming in as joint managers. Seddon kept scoring as Salford pipped Darlington 1883 to top spot.
Given the money that had been invested in the club’s star striker, Seddon felt a huge responsibility to repay his employer’s faith with his performances. He can empathise with the situation that Rooney currently finds himself in, and the way Salford have operated this summer is certainly nothing new.
“If you’re going to move up the leagues, you have to bring in players from above that standard,” claims Seddon. “They did exactly the same when they were two or three leagues lower down. They brought in players like me, Paul Linwood and Danny Webber who had played higher up. All they’re doing is carrying on with that same model, but because the money increases the higher you go, there’s obviously more of a focus on that.
“There was a lot of pressure on me when I signed but you have to be able to handle that. With the way Rooney’s started, I think he’ll be a big hit this season. I can’t see the pressure affecting him or the owners. It’s one of those things they’ve got used to during life. They played for Alex Ferguson so they’re used to those demands and standards.”
If everything goes to plan for Salford’s famous owners, there will be many more promotions to come. The man who helped inspire them to the first still retains a connection with the club in his current role and sees no reason why they can’t keep climbing.
“I think they can go all the way,” says Seddon. “I haven’t seen any drop in passion from any of the Class of ’92. They’re still all really involved. I think as long as they keep on the right track, which they will do, then the sky’s the limit. Once they get into the Football League, especially with the size of the city, they can really go on and do well.”